Collingwood Premiership Captain Nick Maxwell is one of the many elite players who started his career at the Geelong Falcons

From Juniors to Greatness

Thursday, September 01, 2011

by Jordan Laing

Every now and again junior clubs have a unique ability to nurture and develop multiple draftable AFL players in the one year. Although, sustaining the hotbeds of talent is what most clubs struggle with.

The Geelong Falcons are this modern era’s exception and have become a football factory spreading their talent far and wide in the AFL.

There was no better year than the 2001 side which produced four premiership players, two Brownlow Medallists, a Norm Smith medallist and three AFL club captains.

Of the 2001 Geelong Falcons team, Garry Ablett, Luke Hodge, Jimmy Bartel and Nick Maxwell have all gone on to become superstars in the game.

The same side also produced eight other players in the AFL including Matt Maguire, Brent Maloney, Tim Callan, Joel Reynolds, Tim Boyle, Tom Davison, Luke Molau and Luke Vogels.

The player unfortunately overlooked was the best and fairest winner that year, Dom Gleeson.

"I wouldn’t say I was unlucky [not to get drafted], I was just short, slow and not good enough," Gleeson said.

A midfield nowadays which consisted of Bartel, Ablett and Hodge would be the envy of all clubs in the AFL. Not to mention they’d have Maxwell holding the fort down back.

With the skill, leadership and class each player shows on a weekly basis and their match-winning abilities surely they would lead any club to September glory.

So when they were all 18-years-old playing in the same team and vying to get drafted you’d expect their grand final credentials to be no different.

"It was just unfortunate we didn’t win the premiership that year because we had a team of absolute champions," Gleeson recalls.

"I look back and think how did we not win it?"

Despite missing out on being recruited Gleeson has no regrets on the path he has led since he played in this modern era’s ultimate junior dream team.

While he did have a stint with Carlton and had a chance to reach his dream of playing in the AFL it unfortunately was not meant to be.

Gleeson watched superstars come and go at the Falcons and is not surprised by how many players have been recruited from the club in the last decade given the junior development program they’re running.

"I wouldn’t swap that experience with the Geelong Falcons for the world," he said.

"The TAC Cup [and Geelong Falcons] is such a good stepping stone into life, the coaches down there are always talking about staying true to yourself and that work or school is always first.

"I see it firsthand even now with kids coming from the Geelong Falcons that they’re very mature.

"They all see an opportunity now that there are 18 teams in the competition that there might be an opportunity for them to be picked up and make it."

Today, Gleeson is captaining Werribee in the VFL and is proving to be a valuable asset for emerging North Melbourne ruckman Majak Daw.

Gleeson has been helping Daw learn the intricacies and skills of Australian football and has high hopes for his career in the AFL.

"He was very, very raw at the very start but I hope I’m not putting any pressure on him but I can really see him developing into an AFL footballer," Gleeson said.

"I don’t think there would be a happier football club if he did get a game. Everyone would really get behind him and watch him.

"I asked him one day whether being picked up by an AFL club was the highlight of his life and he actually said ‘coming to Australia was my highlight.

"He’s very humble and knows where he came from and he’s a good man.”

To this day, members of the 2001 Geelong Falcons team regularly catch up and reminisce on the good times playing in the TAC Cup.

With another eight players recruited from the club last year and a number of emerging stars playing in the AFL including Patrick Dangerfield, Jack Steven, Gary Rohan and Allen Christensen it’s not unreasonable to think the ultimate 2001 junior dream team will be succeeded in the future.

For the record, Jonathon Brown, Cameron Ling, Matthew Scarlett, Amon Buchanan, Scott Lucas, Shaun Higgins and Nathan Foley are also graduates of the Falcons in previous years.

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